A Hog a Day Part 6

We were sitting around the fire one Saturday night in Mr. Grady Rose’s sitting room.  The only light came from the fire.  All the little kids lounged on the floor in front of the fire, pleasantly tired from an afternoon of play with full bellies. Mr. Grady looked like a gray-haired bear in overalls, not so tall, as burly and powerful. I loved hearing him talk about raising his boys. “I had to kill a hog a day to feed them boys. I told ‘em lot’s of times, ‘Them that don’t work, don’t eat.’ I always go to bed real early and am up by four. That’s the way I was raised. I can’t sleep past four, even in the dead of winter even if I ain’t got a bunch of cows to milk. I used to be out milking while Bessie cooked breakfast. Now I just sit and watch her. Anyhow, one morning up in January, them boys decided they wadn’t getting up. Bessie called ‘em once and they didn’t make a peep. I give ‘em just a little bit and hollered for ‘em to get up. Then I headed out to milk, ‘spectin’ to be right behind me when I noticed, they ain” got up yet.

I hollered up the stairs for ’em. One of ‘em got smart and hollered back ‘We ain’t getting up yet.  Ain’t no use in gittin’up at four just to sit around waitin’ for daylight.’

That got me hot.  I ain’t raising no slackers.  I went straight out to the barn and come back with the plow lines.  I brung ’em back in there and gave one or two licks over them boy’s quilts and they come flying out of that bed just a hollerin’.  All four of ’em was fightin’ and pullin’ each other back trying to git outta my way.   I didn’t have no way of knowing then on account of all the racket, but the deputy sheriff had just raised his hand to knock on the door.  Them four boys busted that front door down and gave him a good stompin’, trying to git away.

He grabbed up his hat, took off runnin’ the other way, jumped in the car and took off.  Turns out he was comin’ out to give me a summons for jury duty.  He went back to town and told the sheriff he wadn’t goin’ back.  Them folks was crazy out there.”

 

 

More Goat Tales

goat-balanced-fence-636192Should goats not choose to lounge about with their bony heads in the fence, they walked through fences like ghosts through walls. Our house was enclosed by a wire fence which was inside the long drive leading up to the house. The pasture presented a third line of fence between the goats and the house. Even the blind goat ran up the diagonal corner brace posts and hopped the fences without even thinking, attaining total access to the whole place. Goats are perpetually in love. None of this fencing got between goats and their aim in life, copulating before as many onlookers as possible: ministers, prissy ladies, and small children, in that order. The tiniest of window ledges presented no problem should the company be saintly enough. Goats crashed my six-year-sister’s birthday party, indulging in a lurid love fest on the lawn, giving the kiddies an eye full till we got it broken up. One morning as the school bus driver impatiently honked for us, a huge Billy Goat chased his lady friend onto the hood of the school bus, consummating their relationship then and there, to the joy of the kids on the bus. Thank goodness, that indiscretion was enough to finally put an end to the goat herd.

Goats Doing What Goats Do Best

Goat in fence I don’t know why Daddy kept goats. In theory, they’d eat brush and he’d have one to barbecue on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day. The fact is, our goats didn’t ascribe to the brush eating theory and were born knowing their life’s purpose was to get their heads stuck in fences, climb on everything and make passionate love. It was clear to the dumbest of them that flowers, grass, garden vegetables, laundry on the line, and almost anything else was better than brush. Only a starving goat would eat poison ivy or bitter weed if anything else is available. I had plenty of experience with goats. Our fences were intended to keep cows and horses in. Goats easily slipped their heads through the wire since they were the philosophical type who believed “the grass is greener on the other side. The problem arose when they tried to remove their horned heads and were stuck fast. In our occupation of unpaid farm hands, my brother and I had to walk the fences to extricate stuck goats. A couple of hazards were manifest. The goats were never appreciative. While we worked to get them loose, they tried to flee, most often smashing our hands against the wire. The second major problem involved randy Billy Goats who thoroughly understood the nannies were in that particular situation for romantic purposes. Resentful Billy Goats can be quite vindictive. If goat testosterone could be marketed, I’d invest.

More to come

How to Get Along With Obnoxious Poultry

 

Daddy was a nut about poultry.  He made regular patrols locally, and if he detected poultry, not in his collection, he couldn’t rest until he had one-upped whoever had put him in a “fowl mood. His enthusiasm didn’t last long enough to build a proper poultry yard, so the coyotes inevitably got whichever of the unfortunate creatures not roosting in the hen-house or trees.  He enthusiastically scouted out additions to his flock who served no function but grain-eating, making a lot of racket, and a free-range pooping.  Periodically, he would bring in a flock of guineas, boasting that they were excellent at letting him know if intruders were on the place.   Guinea fowl are typically smaller than chickens, eat just as much and lay small, thick-shelled speckled strong-tasting eggs. Their meat has a strong, somewhat unpleasant taste.  In addition to all this, at the first notice of a slight disturbance, they panic and go shrieking “pot-rack, pot-rack”, flying madly in all directions.  A slight disturbance is likely nothing more than a feather falling off a guinea hen standing nearby.  Having bragged about what excellent “watch dogs” they were, he’d tolerate the incessant racket and disturbance of the guineas better than the rest of us did.  I never felt bad when the coyotes snatched the last of the guineas.

Geese made an occasional appearance, remarkable for their noisy honking, arrogance, biting, and lifelong diarrhea.  Since we never ate nor plucked a goose, ours served absolutely no other purpose, other than giving up plenty of practice in guarding our backsides against their bites and teaching us the value of wiping our shoes.  Cool kids don’t show up at school with goose sh__ on their shoes. The coyotes liked geese, too.

Chickens were a given. They roosted in the chicken house at night to keep them safe from varmints, but they had the run of the place during the day.  They were pleasant to look at as they bobbed around the place, but weren’t interested in toilet training.  Most importantly, hens lay an egg a day a few months of the year.  They had a nice nesting box built high off the ground.  The prim and proper among them hopped up the little ladder, strolled along till they found their favorite nest, and deposited an egg. Afterward, they cackled out news of their accomplishment and hopped back down the ladder one hop at a time.  The renegades and slow learners stole away to hide a nest in the bushes.  Gathering eggs was a job for women and small children. Mother listened for these naughty girls and sent us scurrying to find their eggs.  It was very important not to take the “nest egg” or the hen would abandon the nest and steal away to hide her nest.  Hens weren’t too fussy about the nest egg being genuine and were perfectly satisfied with glass nest eggs, or an old white door knob, just so the handle pointed down.

We gathered eggs just before dark.  Should eggs be left in the nest after dark, chicken snakes were likely to steal them.  More than once I have reached in gather eggs and grabbed a scaly black snake instead of a warm fresh egg.  Once I was gratified to find a snake skeleton complete with a crushed glass egg resting inside.

In the spring, Mother would “set” her hens when she noticed hens acting “broody” or fussing around and feathering a nest.  Instead of gathering the broody hen’s eggs, she’d add a few eggs to the pile.  The hens never seemed bothered to see the increase.  They’d sit on the nest for about three weeks till the biddies hatched out.  She’d parade around proudly with her babies, fiercely protective.  Many a child, dog, or cat has lived to regret interfering with a mother hen’s babies.  They’d fly on an aggressor in a fury, flogging, spurring, and beating.  I learned early and well to respect Mother Hen.

My grandma loved her chickens and had personal relationships with them, naming each.  Her hens jumped on her shoulders when she went in the chicken yard.  She was not above pointing out to Mabel that Helen had laid a double-yoked egg, nor mentioning to them that if egg production didn’t pick up, a lazy chicken might get invited to Sunday dinner.  Grandma’s feelings for her hens got more personal as she got older, and she started retiring her hens instead of inviting them to Sunday dinner.  Grandpa raised peas to feed the chickens.  When he went into the chicken yard to toss them their peas, they fogged up to sit on his shoulders and on the top of his head.

Dogs loved eggs, too.  Should a dog be foolish enough to take up “egg-sucking” or “chicken-killing” his days on the farm were numbered.  When my grandpa’s dog got in and killed one of her precious layers, she tied the dead hen around his neck and made him wear it for several days, ridding him of his interest in chickens forever.

Once we had a Tom turkey, one of the most detestable creatures living.  He’d been given to Daddy by a deranged backwoodser who found him too evil for his tastes.  Naturally, Daddy grabbed him up and brought him straight home to us, leaving him to the care of his darling bride and tender children along with the rest of the rest of the barnyard creatures. Daddy enjoyed procuring creatures, not caring for them.  That’s what his family was for.  In theory, we only had to tolerate the turkey until Thanksgiving day, when Tom would be the centerpiece of our holiday table.  All we had to do was somehow survive until then.  At his previous home, he’d had a harem of turkey hens, till he got so mean he had to go. For a few days after his arrival, that devil had the run of our barnyard, terrorizing the other fowl.  Deprived of their gentling company, his testosterone exploded. They escaped into the tree branches, under the barn, into stalls, as soon as they’d hear him strutting and making his aggressive, scratchy mating sound, “Aruh! Aruh! Aruh!”  Turkeys don’t always say “Gobble, gobble, Gobble!  Denied the company of poultry, he was not picky about partners, jumping on anything that didn’t get out of his way.  He was no respecter of species and attempted to molest pigs. goats, and even horses.  I was so glad when Daddy put a stop to his antics.  That was one year we gave heartfelt thanks a few weeks early.

Farm Life Ain’t for Kiddies and Cowards

indian dress and henOriginal art by Kathleen Holdaway Swain

Being a farm kid is not for sissies and cowards. The dark side of the chicken-raising experience is slaughtering, plucking, cleaning, and preparing of chickens for the pot.  I watched as Mother transformed into a slobbering beast towering over the caged chickens while we shooed them into the corner of the chicken-yard.  She seemed particularly calculating as she stooped, giving the poor chickens the impression the threat was over. Running her hooked wire clothes hanger at ground level into the midst of the terrorized multitude, she snatched a startled chicken who’d never expected to be attacked at the foot. Exiting the enclosure with her victim, she held it firmly by the head, giving its neck a quick snap before releasing it to turn its last crazy race.  Chickens take a while to get the connection between a broken neck and the end of life.  We crowded by, horribly thrilled by what we knew was coming.  It was scarier than “The Night of the Living Dead” as the chicken flapped its wings, ran with its head hanging crazily to one side, and chased us in ever larger circles until it  finally reached the Pearly Gates.  It looked horribly cruel, but done properly, a quick snap of the wrist breaks the chicken’s neck instantly, giving a quick death.  Sometimes, Mother killed several chickens for the freezer, treating the waiting chickens to a taste of what they were in for.  It didn’t calm them down a bit as the watched the dearly departed flop around the yard.

Roosters are necrophiliacs, turned on by the sight of floppy-necked hens racing by. If one is enticing, just imagine the effect of a yardful! Lustful roosters have no problem resorting to violence toward moralistic humans trying to get between them their fascinating harem. For some reason, Mother was equally determined her chickens not be interfere with her chickens.

Once the chicken was disabled or dead, Mother grabbed it, plunged it into a pot of boiling water, plucked the feathers, slit its pimply white belly and removed its entrails, cut off its feet and head, and prepared it for dinner or the freezer.  I was repulsed when Mother found  unlaid eggs in the egg cavity and saved them for  cooking.  That just didn’t seem right.  I was happy to eat the chicken, but future eggs…disgusting.

Mother looked out one day and saw one of her laying hens eating corn, oblivious to the fact that her gizzard was hanging out.  It bobbed up and down gaily as the chicken pecked corn off the ground.  Apparently she had suffered injury from a varmint.  Clearly, she wouldn’t survive with this injury, so Mother and I tried to catch her.  At least, she could be salvaged for the table.  Well, Her running skills were still intact.  We chased her all over the yard with no luck.  Finally, Mother decided to put her out of her misery by shooting her.  She missed.  She fired again and shot the hen’s foot off. I knew I could do better.  I shot her beak off, then hit her in the tail.  By this time, we both felt horrible and had to get her out of her misery.  Finally, the combined fatigue and her injuries had slowed the poor beakless, tailless, gizzard-bobbing, one-legged chicken down enough so we could catch her and wring her neck.

All chickens didn’t end life as happily.  The LaFay girls, Cheryl, Terry, and Cammie raised chickens for 4-H completion with the of the flock destined to fill their freezer. Late one Thursday evening while their mother was at work, they realized tomorrow was the day for the 4-H barbecue chicken competition.  Mama LaFay wouldn’t be in until way too late to help with slaughtering and dressing the chickens.  After all the time and effort they had put in on their project, they had no choice but to press forward without Mama’s help.  They’d helped Mama with the dirty business of putting up chickens lots of times.  They’d just have to manage the grisly business on their own.

Cheryl, the oldest sister, drew the short straw and won the privilege of wringing the chicken’s neck.  She’d seen Mama do it lots of times but didn’t understand the theory of breaking the neck with a quick snap.  She held the chicken by the neck at arm’s length and swung it around a few times in a wide arc giving it a fine ride, but no real injury.  When she released it, it just ran off drunkenly.  The girls chased and recaptured the chicken a couple of times, giving it another ride or two before the drunken chicken flew up into a tree, saving its life.  Acknowledging her sister’s failure, Terry stepped up to do her duty.  She pulled her chicken from the chicken yard, taking it straight to the chopping block, just like she’d seen Mama do so many times.  Maybe she should have watched a little closer.  Instead of holding the chicken by the head and chopping just below with the hatchet, Terry held it by the feet.  The panicked chicken raised its head, flopped around on the block, and lost a few feathers.  On the next attempt, Cammie tried to help by holding the chicken’s head, but fearing dismemberment jumped when Terry swung the hatchet. The poor chicken only got a slice on its neck.  By now, all three girls were squalling.  Cheryl tied a string on the maimed chicken’s neck.  As Cammie held its feet they stretched the chicken across the block.  By now, Terry was crying so hard so really she couldn’t see.  Taking steady aim, she chopped Henny Penny in half, ending her suffering. Guilt-stricken, they buried the chicken.
Defeated, they finally called their Aunt Millie, who came over and helped them kill and dress their chickens for the competition.  They triumphed and won second place in a field of two.  God only knows what the other team’s chickens may have endured.  All’s well that ends well.

Awesome Life Down on the Farm: You Gotta Have Guts

Farm BoyDaddy loved home remedies and dosed his kids and livestock readily.   Mother did run interference for us on cow chip tea and coal oil and sugar, but did let him load us with sulphur and molasses for summer sores. We never got summer sores, probably because we reeked so much we didn’t tempt mosquitoes. I do appreciate Mother for putting her foot down when his ideas got too toxic. No telling what kind of chromosome damage she saved us. Continue reading

Kids Will Be Kids

imageWhen I was a child on the farm, we frequently had goats, enormously vivacious and entertaining creatures. Even when grown, they still maintain their curiosity and energy, climbing and bounding around.  The kids are irrestible, never tiring of butting, play fighting, and romping until they exhaust themselves, then falling in a heap to sleep.  It always amazed me, the way they butted their mothers so rudely while nursing. The wonder of it was, as the kids aged, we always had adorable new kids to play with.

Once, we had a nanny who lost her kid at the same time another kid was orphaned.  The obvious answer was to have her adopt the orphan.  Daddy rubbed the orphan with her dead kid, then forced  her to let the adopted kid nurse.  It was difficult going for a few feedings, but once she accepted the kid, she didn’t want it out of her sight.  She followed it at play, bleating, unlike the other nannies who enjoyed the herd’s company, glad to let their mischievous offspring romp.  She continued to nurse that kid up until after she had another, when they had to be separated, to keep from starving the new kid.

Farm Life: Gotta Have Guts

Repost

Daddy loved home remedies and dosed his kids and livestock readily.   Mother did run interference for us on cow chip tea and coal oil and sugar, but did let him load us with sulphur and molasses for summer sores. We never got summer sores, probably because we reeked so much we didn’t tempt mosquitoes. I do appreciate Mother for putting her foot down when his ideas got too toxic. No telling what kind of chromosome damage she saved us. Continue reading

Fluffy, the Species Confused Chicken

My little sisters, Connie and Marilyn, raised their baby chick, Fluffy, in a cloth-lined box in the living room. He spent his nights in their room, going to sleep as soon as they covered his sweet, little head. He woke them early in the morning, peeping around looking for them. Cleaning up after him wasn’t really a big problem while he was a tiny chick. Continue reading